Prompting Children to Reason Proportionally: Processing Discrete Units as Continuous Amounts

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Developmental Psychology





Recent studies reveal that children can solve proportional reasoning problems presented with continuous amounts that enable intuitive strategies by around 6 years of age but have difficulties with problems presented with discrete units that tend to elicit explicit count-and-match strategies until at least 10 years of age. The current study tests whether performance on discrete unit problems might be improved by prompting intuitive reasoning with continuous-format problems. Participants were kindergarten, second-grade, and fourth-grade students (N = 194) assigned to either an experimental condition, where they were given continuous amount proportion problems before discrete unit proportion problems, or a control condition, where they were given all discrete unit problems. Results of a three-way mixed-model analysis of variance examining school grade, experimental condition, and block of trials indicated that fourth-grade students in the experimental condition outperformed those in the control condition on discrete unit problems in the second half of the experiment, but kindergarten and second-grade students did not differ by condition. This suggests that older children can be prompted to use intuitive strategies to reason proportionally.